Academic (I wish I had a better word) blogging is an adventure in deterritorialization. Let us suppose that academic disciplines are systems. For Luhmann, systems constitute themselves by distinguishing themselves from an environment as depicted in this (less than ideal) graphic:
The distinction between system and environment is self-referential in the sense that it is an activity (this distinction is an ongoing process that has to reproduce itself from moment to moment in the order of time in a temporality constituted by the system) that only occurs on one side of the system. It is the system that distinguishes itself from its environment, producing an outside and an inside. For the environment, by contrast, this distinction does not exist. Here it’s necessary to note that Luhmann uses the term “environment” equivocally. There is, on the one hand, the environment that exists as such. This environment is what Deleuze and Guattari, in “Of the Refrain”, referred to as chaos or the “milieu of all milieus”. It would be there regardless of whether or not there were any systems to observe it. And that’s just what systems do, according to Luhmann. They observe events that take place or unfold in their environment (other-reference) and within themselves (self-reference). On the other hand, there are the environments constituted by systems. These are the flows or phenomena in other-reference to which a system is open. We can call these two environments Ei and Ec to refer to the “independent environment” and “constituted environment” respectively.
The environment (Ei) is always more complex than the system. Put differently, there is never a one-to-one correspondence between system and the independent environment (Ei). Here I think Luhmann makes a real advance over semiotic and linguistic idealisms because, where these idealisms tend towards a sort of imperialism of the sign and signifier that recognizes no outside, Luhmann’s thought is premised on the existence of a hyper-chaotic outside that can never fully be mastered. If there can never be a one-to-one correspondence between system and Ei, then this is because the environment is hyper-complex and systems need to be capable of engaging in operations and observations in real time (or, at any rate, the time of the system). The system must select and establish selective relations to its environment. Systems are only ever selectively open to their environment. For this reason, systems are necessarily exposed to risk, for it’s always possible that the channel of openness that a system established did not anticipate or retend something of deep importance. It is this risk, the aleatory, the unexpected (the openness of systems is temporalized complexity), that both plays a key role in how the system evolves, but also opens the system to the possibility of destruction.
With respect to the evolution of systems with respect to the aleatory, we might think of what became of Christianity (a religious system) in response to the aleatory event of the Black Plague. Viewed through the lens of then current theology, this event comes to be interpreted as a sign or message from God, as an expression of divine will and disapproval. Perhaps, had the Black Plague not taken place, there would have been no Protestant Reformation. Likewise, the system of meanings internal (self-reference) to Christian doctrine and worldview were reconfigured as a result of this event. Did penance and the idea of inherent sinfulness, for example, play as central a role in early Christianity as it came to after this event?
Let us then suppose that academic disciplines are systems of communication. As such, each distinguishes itself from an environment and constitutes an environment as its object(s) (Ec). In order for a system to observe its environment (Ic), it must draw a distinction. Hyper-chaos or Ei, the milieu of all milieus, cannot be observed for in order to indicate anything at all, argues Luhmann and Spencer-Brown, a space must be cleaved in two, creating a field in which phenomena might come into view. Every discipline has its founding distinctions that bring the phenomena they investigate into relief. For example, economics draws a distinction that creates a marked state of those phenomena that count as “economic”. A space is cut off from the rest of the chaosmos, and it is what appears in that space that constitutes the object of the discipline. We could thus say, in a manner similar to the artist Malevich, that every discipline is framed. There is a frame that precedes that which appears in the frame and that is the condition for the possibility of what appears in the frame (here Derrida’s essay “Parergon”– which could be subtitled “Of Distinctions” or “Of the Frame” –shows itself to be of tremendous value even outside of aesthetics).
Every discipline can thus be said to be territorial and geographical. A territory, after all, is premised on a distinction, the drawing of a boundary. Here the drawing of a distinction should be thought in a very active sense, as a sort of repulsion or pushing away of an outside. The territory of a discipline is its founding distinctions. By contrast, the geography of a discipline is the “texturally” of its object. The object of a discipline, its geography, is that which appears in the marked space of its distinction. All geographies have their texture, their singularities, their features. For example, Literary Studies has the literary object as its geography, and is premised on a set of distinctions (that are fuzzy as in the case of all disciplines) that distinguish the literary object from other objects such as the ethnographic, biological, rhetorical, economic, chemical, philosophical, etc., objects. The texture of the literary object consists in all those features or singularities that are unique to literature as an object of discourse.
There are a variety of ways in which the boundaries of disciplines are maintained. There is, on the one hand, the subject of a system or a discipline. Within every discipline there is the formation of a subject, an agent, that develops the competence to observe according to the territoriality or distinctions of the discipline. There is, in short, a process of subjectivation that creates the subject of the discipline. This process takes place through graduate training. Graduate training is, above all, the formation of a transcendental aesthetic, a field of sensibility or receptivity, to inhabit the territory and geography of the discipline. Then there are the journals, presses, and conferences of the discipline. These are boundary maintaining regimes that link subject of the system to subject of the system and that create and maintain an interiority of distinctions distinct from other disciplinary territories. One talks with or communicates with ones colleagues in the discipline across the globe. Of course, it’s also the case that each discipline creates sub-systems that are themselves territories and geographies defined by sub-disciplines, specializations, and schools of thought. Each of these sub-systems is premised on its own system/environment distinctions and founding distinctions.
A curious feature of distinctions is that they are blind to themselves. On the one hand, every distinction has its unmarked space, the space of that which has been set aside to found the territory and geography, which thereby becomes invisible to the system. For example, economics, in drawing a distinction to constitute its object, places sociology and rhetoric (and everything else) in its unmarked space. As a consequence, rhetorical and sociological phenomena become unavailable for observation. It’s as if these phenomena don’t even exist for this territory. Similarly, the distinction itself is invisible to the system, creating a reality-effect within the territory. Systems can either reflexively observe the distinctions they draw (the critical stance) by drawing another distinction that allows the founding distinctions to be observed, OR the system can operate with their distinctions, using them to make indications or observations, but cannot do both at once. In operating with or using distinctions the distinction becomes invisible and we lose sight of the fact that it was our distinctions that allowed us to make indications or observations in the first place. We think that we observe innocently and immediately, as if it is self-evident that these are the objects that appear in the world, oblivious to the fact that it was a distinction that brought these objects into relief in the first place. It is for this reason that people are perpetually misunderstanding each other. They are unaware of the way in which their discourse is founded on prior (as in a priori) distinctions that are not the same for their interlocutors.
Aside: The foregoing explains why the positivism of so much of the social sciences in its worst moments is so problematic. These social sciences are premised on gathering “data” and the thesis that the data “speaks for itself”. What’s missed is that there is always a prior distinction that 1) selects what data is to be observes or gathered, and 2) how it is to be interpreted. These distinctions do not arise from the data, but precede it; though they can, occasionally, be perturbed or irritated by the data. We can call this “innocent” form of observation “pre-critical” in that it does not engage in a reflexive engagement with the distinctions that underlie its observations. Distinctions become all the more tyrannical when second-order observation or observation of observation (observing distinctions) is not engaged in. Indeed, often observation becomes a confirmation of unconscious assumptions and prejudices that haunt the discursive community.
The result of the blind spots that inhabit a territory is disciplinary myopia. Because systems can only see what they can see and cannot see what they cannot see (as a result of their distinctions) we get disciplinary imperialism. Every discipline runs the risk of inflating its territory and seeing it as capturing or comprehending the milieu of milieus, hyper-chaos, or the independent environment, Ei. Everything, for example, comes to be economic or a sign or rhetoric or biological; and this, simply, because one does not discern the blind spots constituted by their own distinctions (we’re too busy operating with them in the comprehension of Ec). We speak only to ourselves, to the other subjects of our system or territory, and when we speak to subjects of other territories, we do so as if we were speaking to them as to ourselves (the philosopher addresses everything the rhetorician says philosophically). Because we can only hear what we can hear as a result of the distinctions with which we operate, we even read and hear every utterance from others within the frame of our own territory.
Of course, here I am speaking in extreme terms for no one ever manages to perfectly occupy their territory, but certainly we encounter many for whom their disciplinary territory (Ec) is the entire world (Ei). They read nothing but journals within their territories and attend nothing but conferences within their conceptual geography. This, I think, is the trauma of blogging (and in a certain respect, the trauma of all writing or inscription). The destiny of all inscription is deterritorialization. Inscriptions are deterritorialized first of all from their founding moment of inscription, but also from their milieu of inscription, and their territory of inscription. Inscription has the power to circulate in the world beyond territories, to pass from territory to territory, and thereby to encounter subjects of other territories. In this regard, every writing is daimonic or angelic, though on a plane of immanence. The daimons and angels were intermediaries between the heavens and the earth. They were beings in between, that passed between two realms. This is what happens with writing and especially blogging. One passes between and throughout territories, scrambling all codes or distinctions, perpetually encountering the blind spots or unmarked space of ones own composition in and through encountering citizens of other territories in this space of transit. At the tail end of it all one no longer knows whether he is a philosopher, rhetorician, media theorist, political theorist, sociologist, or any number of other subjects because distinctions sprout within you like a contagion as a result of these foreign encounters. One becomes agile and mobile in their theory, shifting from field of distinctions to field of distinctions, multiplying perspectives endlessly. There are, in fact, material conditions for this; for it is a property of the inscription itself that renders this becoming-daimon possible.